Alice Bradley Sheldon (August 24, 1915 - May 19, 1987), better known in Sci-Fi circles by her pen name James Tiptree Jr., was one of the most popular writers of feminist Science Fiction. Tiptree debuted her first story, 1968's Birth of A Salesman, which was published in the March issue of Analog (then known as Analog Science Fact and Fiction).
Her male pen name came from a number of different sources: "Tiptree" came from a branded jar of marmalade named after the British village in Essex, while "Jr." was suggested by her husband. She would elaborate in an interview that assuming the identity of a man would make her slip by mostly unobserved by the male readers. This also made it easier for her to write the kind of fiction she was interested in.
She continued writing her stories as James Tiptree Jr., and sometimes as Raccoona Sheldon, from the late 60s to the mid-70s, while refusing to meet her fans in public. In 1977, Tiptree's identity was finally exposed, leading many of the writers who assumed her to be male to hang their heads in embarrassment. Despite this, Tiptree remained a respected contributor to the field and would continue to write until her tragic suicide pact in 1987 with her husband, Huntingdon Sheldon, following years of depression and physical health issues.
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, compiled in 1990, is an omnibus of her most famous short stories that explore themes of human nature, sexuality and gender, misogyny, epistemology, alien encounters and metaphysical experiences. Many of these narratives are from the perspectives of oppressed women or weak-willed men.
The James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award, founded in 1991, was an annual literary prize for works that explored or challenged ideas of gender. In 2019, under pressure from social media and fan communication, the name was changed to The Otherwise Award, on the grounds that the Sheldons' murder-suicide pact resembled caregiver abusenote . It also appeared to valorize the murderer while sidelining the disabled person, a common practice in reports about caregiver murders. "Otherwise" is a term often used in black queer feminist scholarship. Renewing their commitment to questioning gender roles and portrayals in fantasy and science fiction, the organizers intend to promote "works that have a broad, intersectional, trans-inclusive understanding of gender in the context of race, class, nationality, disability, and more."
Fiction by James Tiptree Jr.:
Flash Fiction, Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories:
- "Birth of a Salesman"
- "A Day Like Any Other"
- "Happiness is a Warm Spaceship"
- "The Mother Ship"
- "Please Don't Play With the Time Machine"
- "Pupa Knows Best"
- "Beam Us Home"
- "Faithful to Thee, Terra, in Our Fashion"
- "The Last Flight Of Doctor Ain"
- "The Snows Are Melted, The Snows Are Gone"
- "Your Haploid Heart
- "I'm Too Big But I Love To Play
- "Last Night and Every Night"
- "The Man Doors Said Hello To"
- "The Nightblooming Saurian"
- "And So On, And So On"
- "I'll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool Is Empty"
- "Mother in the Sky with Diamonds"
- "The Peacefulness of Vivyan"
- "All the Kinds of Yes"
- "And I Have Come Upon This Place by Lost Ways"
- "And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side"
- "Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket"
- "The Man Who Walked Home"
- "The Milk of Paradise"
- "On the Last Afternoon"
- "Press Until the Bleeding Stops"
- "The Trouble Is Not In Your Set"
- "Through a Lass Darkly"
- "The Girl Who Was Plugged In"
- "Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death"
- "The Women Men Don't See"
- "Angel Fix"
- "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever"
- "A Momentary Taste of Being"
- "Beaver Tears"
- "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?"
- "The Psychologist Who Wouldn't Do Awful Things to Rats"
- "She Waits for All Men Born"
- "Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!"
- "The Screwfly Solution"
- "Time-Sharing Angel"
- "We Who Stole the Dream"
- "Slow Music"
- "A Source of Innocent Merriment"
- "Excursion Fare"
- "Out of the Everywhere"
- "What Came Ashore at Lirios"
- "With Delicate Mad Hands"
- "The Boy Who Waterskied to Forever"
- "Beyond the Dead Reef"
- "All This and Heaven Too"
- "Morality Meat"
- "The Only Neat Thing to Do"
- "Trey of Hearts"
- "The Color of Neanderthal Eyes"
- "Good Night, Sweethearts"
- "In the Great Central Library of Deneb University"
- "Our Resident Djinn"
- "In Midst of Life"
- "Second Going"
- "Yanqui Doodle"
- "Backward, Turn Backward"
- "Come Live with Me"
- "The Earth Doth Like a Snake Renew"
- Up the Walls of the World (1978)
- Brightness Falls from the Air (1985)
Her works provide examples of:
- After the End: Both 'The Man Who Walked Home' and 'Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled Of Light!' are set after an apocalyptic event. Though in case of the latter, it turns out that the protagonist is hallucinating — or possibly foreseeing! — the post-apocalyptic landscape because of the electric shocks she was given at a mental institution.
- Blessed with Suck: Snow in "She Waits For All Men Born". She has a Healing Factor but it comes from reflexively sucking the life-force out of whoever's closest to her whenever she gets hurt. There is no way for her to turn this off, control it, or choose who she uses it on, and she will outlive everything.
- BrotherSister Incest: In 'A Momentary Taste of Being', Aaron, the protagonist, thinks back to a summer in which he took his 13-year-old sister's virginity when he was 15. He still fantasizes about her while both are working aboard a research starship in the present.
- Cyberpunk: The Girl Who Was Plugged In is a 1974 novella about P. Burke, a suicidal teenage girl with Cushing's Disease, who's selected by a corporation to be their 'Remote Operator'. Put bluntly: through a satellite link, Burke controls Delphi, an attractive blonde girl born without a functioning brain after being extracted as a modified fetus from an artificial womb. Burke/Delphi is what we would call an influencer today; her sole function is to sell products to the masses. Take into account this was a full decade before William Gibson's Neuromancer and the cyberpunk genre took off.
- Crapsack World: Nobody seems safe in any of the stories she writes.
- Deconstruction: Her stories with pulp and space opera settings are typically more somber in tone and execution. 'Heroic' characters are presented as either evil or dysfunctional and there's a tragic element in how events unfold.e
- Downer Ending: Most of her stories end this way.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Howie in "Beam Us Home", which is a Shout-Out to Star Trek: The Original Series. Howie lives on present-day Earth which becomes increasingly violent and militarized through his lifetime. He feels that Star Trek is real, or rather that it reflects some kind of reality that he may have been sent from, is sometimes in touch with, and will one day return to. At the very end, he does.
- Tiptree was a Trekkie par excellence. She wrote a poetic letter to Nimoy about his portrayal of Spock. On August 28, 1968 she submitted directly to producer Gene Roddenberry a script called "The Nowhere People." It was returned unread on September 20, with a letter stating that the studio could not "read or consider unsolicited literary material."note She corresponded with her editors and with other Star Trek writers about how to get it on the show. Meanwhile, she created stories about her own starship and crew. Only "Happiness is a Warm Spaceship" was ever published, in If for November 1969. (It is in Meet Me At Infinity, a collection of Tiptree's otherwise unpublished works at the Internet Archive.) "The Nowhere People", also renamed "Meet Me At Infinity", was picked up by the fanzine Eridani Triad and published in issue 3 in 1972.
- "With Delicate Mad Hands" meticulously details how Carol (an otherwise beautiful woman with a deformed pig-like nose) does this, excelling at science so she can join the space program and overcoming all that stands in the way of her ultimate goal, a fantasied "pig planet" that is actually real; a woman from that world has been telepathically calling her since they were both children. This is a Tiptree story, so the planet (actually a brown dwarf star) is a calm and lovely place, but has lethal radiation and she only lives a few days once she leaves her ship, but in that time she experiences delight, communication, wonder, acceptance and love. And the planet's people — who look like pigs, kangaroos, tortoises and even Yoda!note — gain knowledge to add to their space program — more like SETI, but via telepathic "star calling".
- Eye Scream: The protagonist of 'Painwise' keeps gouging his eyes out to spite a computer that keeps healing any of his wounds.
- Feels No Pain: In 'Painwise', the protagonist is a man genetically-altered to withstand pain. And by the end of the story, there's a good reason why.
- Forced Sleep: In 'Time-Sharing Angel', a teenager's fear of overpopulation causes a visiting alien to induce forced sleeping cycles between the world's children. The youngest would remain awake and would switch with their sleeping siblings and vice versa for days on end. Of course, this has psychological consequences on their mothers (who can't give birth properly anymore) and the global population declines.
- Gendercide: In 'The Screwfly Solution', a husband and wife write letters to each other as the men of the world begin a campaign of mass femicide everywhere. It turns out that aliens spread a rage virus to lower the world population and take the Earth for themselves.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: In "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?", 2/3 of the crew of the Sunbird absolutely snap upon learning that the Earth has become a Lady Land due a plague that killed off the men, with one trying to commit rape and the other trying to take over the ship with his gun in the belief God wants him to save the women from themselves. Only the scientist doesn't lose it, and that might well be because he's still drugged.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: Her real life experiences with misogyny is evident in how she depicts humanity's interactions with alien life. While the women seem receptive to aliens, the men tend to be violent and brutish, even going as far as raping alien women.
- Interspecies Romance: In 'With Delicate Mad Hands', a human woman with a large pig-like nose (but otherwise, and tragically, lovely) falls in love with an alien on a planet (actually a dwarf star) that's lethal to humans. The alien is a female who has pig-like characteristics as well.
- 'And I Awoke and Found Me Here on The Cold Hill's Side' is about humans being addicted to sex with aliens and the societal issues it brings.
- Lady Land: In 'Houston, Houston, Do You Read?', three male astronauts on a circumsolar mission around the sun are left stranded in space. Attempting to contact NASA, they're shocked when a group of women answer back, only to then discover that centuries have passed on Earth, a virus has killed off most of the world population, followed by mass chaos and a reformed society. However, upon interacting with the women aboard another spacecraft, they finally learn that the plague targeted only the men, leaving a race of women that survive via cloning themselves using DNA from the 11,000 women who survived.
- In 'Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled Of Light!', a woman believes she's working as a mail carrier in the aftermath of a terrible war which left a world without men, back to 19th-century tech, filled with peace and friendship as the "sisters" rebuild. Tiptree leaves it ambiguous whether it's a vision of the future, or the extremely detailed hallucination of a woman in the modern world who went insane after shock treatments. It might even be inadvertent telepathic contact between the modern woman and the future mail carrier.
- "Not So Different" Remark: In 'We Who Stole the Dream', the Joilani refugees who return to their homeworld begin to notice that their fellow countrymen are not only now taller, but are becoming increasingly like the human oppressors the refugees plotted and worked so hard to escape.
- Product Placement: In the future of The Girl Who Was Plugged In, corporations are banned from advertising (the word 'ad' itself is considered a negative one), so they resort to using the media's coverage of celebrities using their products.
- Police Are Useless: In 'Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light', the police are so amused/disgusted by the runaway girl's delusions that they let her walk away, twice! This leads to the story's infamous Downer Ending.
- The Federation: Future humans are typically united under the same banner in most stories, but she tends to depict us as violent brutes toward any aliens that come our way.
- Time Travel: 'The Man Who Walked Home' is about a man thrown back and forward in time by an anomaly.